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NBCU’s Linda Yaccarino in Talks for Twitter CEO

Linda Yaccarino, a hard-charging veteran of TV’s ad-sales wars with a knack for relentless promotion, is in talks to become the next chief executive of Twitter, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Yaccarino, who spent a good chunk of her career at WarnerMedia’s TV operations before joining NBCUniversal last decade, supervises the Comcast-owned company’s ad-sales efforts across the globe, with Peacock and NBC among the assets she helps fortify with revenue. In recent years, she has spearheaded initiatives to generate new cash flows through e-commerce, and worked to redefine the way the TV industry measures its audiences for advertisers in hopes of giving more credibility to the way Madison Avenue pays for people who watch their favorite programs via streaming video.

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A spokesman for NBCUniversal’s ad-sales business said he did not know any details surrounding a change in Yaccarino’s status with the company. “Linda is in back to back rehearsals for Monday’s upfront,” said the spokesman, Joe Benarroch, referring to the annual sales presentations NBCU and its rivals make to advertisers each year in May. The person familiar with the matter suggested NBCU might have to rework the presentation because of Yaccarino’s potential departure.

NBCU is at present without a regular leader, after former CEO Jeff Shell was ousted in the wake of a harassment complaint from a CNBC anchor. Mike Cavanagh, a senior executive at corporate parent Comcast, has taken the reins in the interim, but Yaccarino’s ties at the company were to Shell and his predecessor, Steve Burke, according to another person familiar with the matter.

Twitter could use a Madison Avenue expert. Since being purchased by Elon Musk in October for $44 billion, the social-media venue has lost advertisers while its owner experiments with its features in real time, removing some facets, and reinstalling others. Musk has removed the blue-check labels that verify identities, only making them available if users pay extra for them. And he has granted new access to accounts that were previously banned for passing along disinformation or offensive material.

But there are other digitally savvy executives who could make for a sound choice for Twitter CEO. Nada Stirratt, for example, is a veteran digital advertising executive who recently left Facebook and has worked for the former Viacom as well as News Corp., and was CEO of Verve Mobile, a location-based mobile technology platform.

Yaccarino has over the past several months tried to help Twitter rehabilitate its reputation with advertisers. In April, she interviewed Musk at an industry event in Miami Beach, and NBCUniversal recently expanded an agreement with Twitter that will make content tied to the 2024 Paris Olympics available on the social site — including a daily live show. People familiar with the matter say she has fostered professional ties to Chris Riedy, Twitter’s vice president of global sales and marketing, and that she has long expressed admiration for Musk.

Yaccarino “has a unique interest in Twitter,” says Lou Paskalis, a former senior marketing executive at Bank of America who now runs the consulting firm AJL Advisory Inc. “She sees opportunity there. Twitter is probably selling advertising at significant discounts in exchange for volume commitments.”

Her departure, if it does in fact take place, will force NBCUniversal to examine its ad-sales operations. One potential successor, Laura Molen, parted ways with the company at the end of last year. A restructuring of operations that took place at that time gave Mark Marshall oversight of the bulk of NBCU’s national media sales, and Krishan Bhatia, the unit’s chief business officer, control of teams devoted to ad-tech and streaming and data products. One person familiar with the company believes Mark Lazarus, the NBCU executive who has oversight of the company’s streaming and TV businesses, could make a bid to assume oversight of ad sales, given most of his portfolio depends on them.

If Yaccarino does take the job, she will have many challenges in front of her, including moderating content on the site; monetizing traffic; and, increasingly, governing questions around Twitter’s place in popular culture. Earlier this week, for example, the former Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson said he intended to launch a new program on Twitter. The concept would no doubt generate traffic and interest, but Carlson’s hard-right talking points also caused Fox News to lose advertisers during his hour, and would no doubt cause concern for some of Twitter’s sponsors as well.

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